As a student of the history of science, I can say with confidence that Mr. Botkin is right and the Science Establishment and its defenders are wrong. Most great scientific theories evolve over time amid passionate but honest debate. Today, we are confronted by people who have appointed themselves the enforcers of true science. These people demonize anyone who dares to challenge current science orthodoxy. For example, they call people who dispute or even just question man-made global warming "deniers"--a term most often associated with Holocaust denial.
One of the changes among scientists in this century is the increasing number who believe that one can have complete and certain knowledge. For example, Michael J. Mumma, a NASA senior scientist who has led teams searching for evidence of life on Mars, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "Based on evidence, what we do have is, unequivocally, the conditions for the emergence of life were present on Mars—period, end of story."
Botkin twice calls on one of my heroes, Richard Feynman, to rebut this harmful attitude:
Reading Mr. Mumma's statement, I thought immediately of physicist Niels Bohr, a Nobel laureate, who said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it." To which Richard Feynman, another famous physicist and Nobel laureate, quipped, "Nobody understands quantum mechanics."
...How about a little agnosticism in our scientific assertions—and even, as with Richard Feynman, a little sense of humor so that we can laugh at our errors and move on? We should all remember that Feynman also said, "If you think that science is certain—well that's just an error on your part."